When you think of the beginnings of reality competition shows, FOX’s American Idol is one that comes to mind at the top of that list. It was a monster hit with judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul getting major boosts to their careers for their funny and witty banter as they weighed in on the performances.
This week, Abdul returns to FOX for its newest reality competition show, The Masked Dancer, and the fact that she is a choreographer by trade – as well as a singer/songwriter and actress – makes her a perfect addition to the judging panel.
Like its sister show The Masked Singer, The Masked Dancer will feature celebrities hidden behind the façade of elaborate costumes, except in this format, they will be performing dance moves ranging from breakdancing to ballet, as the panel and the audience tries to figure out who the famous faces are behind the masks and the moves.
Inspired by a segment featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Masked Dancer will be hosted by Craig Robinson, with panelists Brian Austin Green, who performed as the Giraffe on The Masked Singer, Ken Jeong, Ashley Tisdale and the aforementioned Abdul.
Monsters & Critics had a chance to speak to Abdul about her new gig and her old one, read on for all the deets:
Monsters & Critics: Paula, having been one of the originals in this era of talent competition shows having served as a judge on American Idol, what is your feeling about returning to FOX for The Masked Dancer?
Paula Abdul: It had to be the right show, and when Rob Wade [Fox Entertainment President, Alternative Entertainment and Specials] called me, I was smiling from ear to ear. I’m such a big fan of The Masked Singer. So, the only thing I kept saying was, “How in the hell are we going to be able to guess who is dancing?”
At least, with singing, you can be familiar with someone’s tone and phrasing, but with dancing… Then, he said, “There’s going to be a lot of heavy weight on the clues.” For me, I wanted to have fun. And I’ll be honest with you. This is the most fun I have ever had on a reality competition. It was so different for me, and it was just so joyful.
M&C: The producers have said in an interview that in rehearsals, you guessed one contestant in like 5 seconds. How do you figure out who is behind the mask?
Paula Abdul: You have to pay a lot of attention to the clues because we don’t have a voice to base it on, and the clues came everywhere from within the costume, lots of clues in the package, even in the stage setting and choreography. It was incredible.
M&C: What thought went into the costumes to make them easier to dance in than the ones for The Masked Singer? What is the biggest difference?
Paula Abdul: When it comes to dancing in the costumes, the limited range of motion with the costumes means the head has to be so secure because spotting is everything for dancers, especially when they are turning. So, it was amazing for me to see that they could have their core balance and not get vertigo.
It was crazy because they are turning all over the place. They are doing the skillful pirouettes, and they only have this little window to see out of.
M&C: How did they cast the show? Are the contestants professional dancers, or at least celebrities who have some training, or can anyone actually do it?
Paula Abdul: What I love about the show is that you don’t have to be a dancer. It’s about being celebrated on that stage and having fun – and some of the people who didn’t have any dance training were the most entertaining.
M&C: Is The Masked Dancer a chance for singers whose voices might be too well-known for them to appear on The Masked Singer to take part? Are there any rules?
Paula Abdul: Yes. There are some known singers that probably wouldn’t be on The Masked Singer, because their voice is so identifiable, and The Masked Dancer is a chance for them to take part.
M&C: In real life, when you go clubbing or work on sets doing choreography, who have you seen that made you go, “Oh, my God. So and so is so great?”
Paula Abdul: I worked on the movie Dragnet. I did the music video for the movie, and it was called City of Crime, and Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks, you should see them move. Of course, I choreographed them, but they were full on. They were great. But, yes, as far as dance moves go ‑‑ oh, James Corden is a brilliant dancer, too. He’s wicked good.
M&C: Are there moves that people do that you can say, “Yes, that’s a trained dancer?” Is there something there that we should be looking for as viewers?
As far as seeing these performers underneath the costumes in The Masked Dancer, I can tell immediately who has had some training because they are doing technical steps that only someone who is trained would know how to do.
The Masked Dancer premieres on Sunday, Dec. 27 on FOX.